Lionel Hollins

Rockets want Lionel Hollins as assistant coach


Kevin McHale is entering the final year of his contract with the Rockets, and general manager Daryl Morey has said he doesn’t believe lame-duck status matters.

Morey is really testing that theory.

Marc Stein of ESPN

McHale has improved in Houston, and I’d say he’s a pretty good coach.

But I believe Hollins is a better coach, and this would absolutely threaten McHale’s job – even if nobody enters the arrangement with that intention.

Hollins has previously rejected opportunities to be an assistant coach, and he interviewed this offseason with the Cavaliers and Lakers – the last two teams with openings – to become a head coach. Even though the Cavaliers appear headed in a different direction, the Lakers might still make sense if for no other reason than their search is extremely confusing.

So, there’s reason for Hollins to wait.

However, if the Lakers choose someone else, Houston could intrigue Hollins.

I can’t imagine a better place for Hollins to repair his images after disputes with the Grizzlies’ analytically inclined front office led to his ouster in Memphis. Hollins is an excellent coach who relates well to his players and has a proven record of success on defense. it’s a shame one flaw – Hollins should become more accepting of statistics, because they really don’t interfere with his coaching principles – has kept him out of the game for a year and counting.

Morey’s Rockets also heavily rely on analytics to inform their decisions, so if Hollins succeeds with them, that would say a lot about his ability to adapt. Every front-office in the NBA uses analytics to some degree, and it would be difficult to employee a coach who can’t at least work within an organization that values statistics.

If you’re wondering why Morey would want Hollins, the Houston general manager is more open-minded than he gets credit for. McHale is definitely not predisposed to using analytics, but he and Morey have complemented each other relative well.

Hollins could help upgrade Houston’s 12th-ranked defense, which allows the most points per possession in the playoffs. If he does, he’d definitely be in line to become a head coach next offseason.

In many ways, this is just Morey taking the analytical approach in building a coaching staff. The market is flooded with good coaching candidates – there’s no excuse for hiring a lackluster, either in potential or current ability, head coach this offseason – and that leaves a surplus, which includes Hollins. Most years, Hollins would have already been hired as a head coach elsewhere.

Hollins and Houston would be an interesting pairing, no doubt. If it works, the Rockets could improve enough defensively to win their first playoff series and six years and Hollins could position himself to become a head coach somewhere the following season.

Maybe even in Houston.

Celtics president Danny Ainge on Brad Stevens: ‘He’s a keeper’

Brad Stevens

Celtics coach Brad Stevens has never finished a season with a winning record. He’s over .500 this year only because Boston came back to beat the lowly 76ers. He has never won a playoff game.

But Stevens – who signed a six-year, $22 million contract in 2013 – has plenty of job security.

Celtics president Danny Ainge, in a Q&A with Chris Forsberg of ESPN:

You’ve joked about it before, but are you ready to give him another six-year contract yet?

Ainge: [Laughs] Yeah.

You have to start thinking about that. Sure, we’re only in Year 3, but you can’t risk letting a good coach get away.

Ainge: No, listen, he’s a keeper. He’s great. He’s great to work with. Like I said, I think he’s going to be — if he stays in this game long enough — he’s going to be one of the great coaches.

I tend to agree with Ainge’s assessment. Stevens has looked like an excellent coach so far – implementing a sound defense, creating space on offense and communicating clearly with his players.

But Stevens has benefited tremendously from low expectations, arriving in Boston after Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen retired. Expectations sunk even lower when the Celtics traded Rajon Rondo last season.

That’s when Stevens appeared to do his best work, guiding a starless team to a 24-12 finish.

Expectations will keep rising, though. Some expected the Celtics to break out this year, but they’re just 8-7. Stevens faces the difficult task of managing a rotation full of pretty good – but no great – players. This might be his hardest NBA assignment yet.

Stevens has done plenty to earn praise from his boss. But to actually get a contract extension, he’ll have to keep meeting higher and higher expectations.

I believe Stevens is up to the challenge, but I’m not completely certain of it. He wouldn’t be the first coach to impress early in his tenure and then fizzle. Just look at how many Coach of the Year winners lost their jobs a short time later.

Again, I think Stevens will meet any reasonable expectations he faces. He just must actually do it to get a longer deal.

League executives, players wince watching this Kobe Bryant

Kobe Bryant
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Over the last few days, we’ve written in more detail about Kobe Bryant‘s shooting troubles. He’s jacking up threes his fastest pace ever, he can’t create space to get off clean shots, he’s hitting 31.1 percent overall and 19.5 percent from three. There are flashes of vintage Kobe, but they are fleeting (and mostly because poor shot choices are falling). Byron Scott is still in Kobe’s corner, saying they just need to get the veteran better looks.

However, talk to people around the league about Kobe and you hear some variation of the phrase “hard to watch.” After 20 seasons, more than 55,000 minutes on the court, and coming off two major injuries, Kobe clearly is not the same player everyone admired for so long.

Over at the Los Angeles Times Mike Bresnahan and Broderick Turner got a number of sources to wince about Kobe for a story — except nobody wanted their name attached to attacking a legend of the game.

“Man, I don’t want to see Kobe go out like this, looking this bad and not able to do what he once could do,” said a retired guard who faced Bryant. “He doesn’t have anything else to prove to anybody. He was one of the greatest. I know he’s owed that $25 million, but he should just walk away now. He ain’t got it anymore.”

“He’s one of the few players in NBA history to have gotten everything possible out of his body. Now his body has nothing left to give,” (an Eastern Conference executive) said. “But that’s life in the NBA, in professional sports. At some point, the body just can’t do it anymore and Kobe’s body can’t do it anymore.”

One West scout said Bryant looked “disinterested” at times. A current player in the West went a step further.

“Yeah, I’ve seen him play and it’s disgusting,” he said. “He’s one of the best of all time. But he really hasn’t played that much in the last two or three years. He’s got nothing left. It’s sad to watch because he used to be so great, and I mean great.”

Kobe is not going to walk away mid-season, and nobody wants an injury to force him out of the game.

But it’s hard to see how anything is going to dramatically change. Kobe may shoot a little better than his current but it’s not likely going to change in a meaningful way. Which will just make things hard to watch for a full season.

Spurs to give Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili Friday night off in Denver

Manu Ginobili, Harrison Barnes, Tim Duncan
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The Spurs are 12-3 and comfortably in second place in the West, they have the best defense in the NBA allowing just 93.8 points per 100 possessions, and they have a top-10 offense to go with it.

So, time to start making sure guys are rested.

That is the first night of a back-to-back, with former Spurs’ assistant coach Mike Budenholzer and his Atlanta Hawks coming to San Antonio on Saturday. Popovich is saving his two veterans for that game.

Duncan and Ginobili have looked like they found the fountain of youth this season. Duncan is taking on less of the offense but has been very efficient in those moments. Ginobili has the impact he did a few years back in his bench role.

What Gregg Popovich cares about is them playing like that come the postseason. So they will rest on Friday.

Brandon Armstrong impersonates Ray Allen (video)

2014 NBA Finals - Game Five
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Ray Allen is retired-ish, but he’ll always be running through screens – in our mind and in this video.